1. Sentence Style Let us guess that whenever we read a sentence and like it, we unconsciously store it away in our model-chamber; and it goes, with the myriad of its fellows, to the building, brick by brick, of the eventual edifice which we call our style. -- Mark Twain
2. Why is sentence style important?
Good prose must be lively, engaging, and interesting.Sentences full of vague words produce blurry, boring prose and drowsy readers.Bored readers are not born but made.
Fuzzy sentences are often the result of fuzzy thinking.Ask yourself, Are my sentences vague or confusing because Im really not sure what my point is or where its going?
Each of your sentences should give readers enough clear details for them to see the picture you are creating.
Repeated sentence elements such as verbs, nouns, pronouns, and phrases, often appear in parallel form to emphasize meaning and to promote sentence fluency.
Faulty Parallelism :My Aunt Clara swears she has seen Elvis snacking at the deli, browsing at the supermarket, munching at the pizza parlor, and in the cookbook section of a local bookstore.
How would you revise this sentence?
5. Needed Words
Add words needed to complete compound structures.
Incorrect :Mayor Davis never has and never will accept a bribe from anyone.
Correct :Mayor Davis never hasacceptedand never will accept a bribe from anyone.
6. Needed Words
Add the wordthatif there is any danger of misreading without it.
Confusing :Looking out the family room window, Sarah saw her favorite tree, which she had climbed so often as a child, was gone.
Revised :Looking out the family room window, Sarah sawthather favorite tree, which she had climbed so often as a child, was gone.
7. Needed Words
Add words needed to make comparisons logical and complete.
Confusing :The forests of North America are much more extensive than Europe.
Revised :The forests of North America are much more extensive thanthose ofEurope.
8. Needed Words
Add the articlesa ,an , andthewhere necessary for grammatical completeness.
Confusing:Blood can be drawn only by doctor or by authorized person who has been trained in procedure.
Revised:Blood can be drawn only byadoctor or byanauthorized person who has been trained intheprocedure.
9. Problems with Modifiers
A modifyingor descriptivephrase must have a logical relationship to some specific words in the sentence.
When those words are omitted, the phrase dangles without anything to modify.Dangling modifiersfrequently occur at the beginnings of sentences and often can be corrected by adding the proper subjects to the main clauses.
Misplaced Modifiersoccur when modifying words, phrases, or clauses are not placed near the word they describe.This often results in confusion or unintentional humor.
10. Problems with Modifiers
Dangling Modifier :Not knowing how to swim, buying scuba gear was foolish.
Revised :Not knowing how to swim,Jack and Jilldecided that buying scuba gear was foolish.
11. Problems with Modifiers
Misplaced Modifier : Teddy swatted the fly still dressed in his pajamas.
Revised : Teddy, still dressed in his pajamas, swatted the fly.
Be consistent in your use of pronouns; dont shift from one person to another.Make the point of view consistent.
Correct :Oneshouldnt eat pudding withhis or herfingers.
Maintain consistent verb tenses.Consistent verb tenses clearly establish the time of the actions being described. When a passage begins in one tense and then shifts without warning and for no reason to another, readers are distracted and confused.
Incorrect :Big Joesawthe police car coming up behind, so heturnsinto the next alley.
Correct : Big Joesawthe police car coming up behind, so heturnedinto the next alley.
14. Mixed Constructions
Mixed constructions is a catchall term that applies to a variety of sentence construction errors.Usually, the term refers to a sentence in which the writer begins with one kind of structure and then shifts to another in mid-sentence.
Untangle the grammatical structure
Straighten out the logical connections
Avoidis when ,is where , andreasonis becauseconstructions
15. Mixed Constructions
Confusing :The novel is too confusing for what the author meant.
Revised : The novel is too confusing for me to understand what the author meant.
16. Mixed Constructions
Confusing:Children with messages from their parents will be stapled to the bulletin board.
Revised : To find messages from their parents, children should look at the bulletin board.
17. Mixed Constructions
Confusing:Anorexia nervosais wherepeople, believing they are too fat, diet to the point of starvation.
Revised : Anorexia nervosa is a disorder suffered by people who, believing they are too fat, diet to the point of starvation.
Confusing :Loveis whenyou start rehearsing dinner-date conversation before breakfast.
Revised:If you start rehearsing dinner-date conversation before breakfast, then youre in love.
18. Sentence Emphasis
Some words and phrases in your sentences are more important than others and therefore need more emphasis.Three ways to vary emphasis are:
19. Sentence Emphasis: Word Order
The arrangement of words in a sentence can determine which ideas receive the most emphasis. To stress a word or phrase, place it at the end of the sentence or at the beginning of the sentence:
Murder was Colonel Mustards only solution .
Colonel Mustard knew only one solution :Murder .
20. Sentence Emphasis: Coordination
When you want to stress two closely related ideas equally, coordinate them.In coordination, you join two sentences with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS).
Choppy :The most popular girls name today is Emily.The most popular boys name today is Jacob.
Coordinated : The most popular girls name today is Emily , andthe most popular boys name is Jacob.
21. Sentence Emphasis: Subordination
Some sentences contain one main statement and one or more less emphasized elements; the less important ideas are subordinate to, or are dependent upon, the sentences main idea.Subordinating conjunctions introduce dependent clauses.
Without Subordination :Superman stopped changing his clothes.He realized the phone booth was made of glass.
With Subordination :Whenhe realized the phone booth was made of glass, Superman stopped changing his clothes.
22. Sentence Emphasis: Combining Choppy Sentences
Short sentences demand attention, so you should use them primarily for emphasis.Too many short sentences, one after the other, make for a choppy style.
Choppy :I have fond memories of Zilker Park.My husband and I met there.
Revised : I have fond memories of Zilker Parkbecausemy husband and I met there.
23. Sentence Emphasis: Combining Choppy Sentences
Below, a description of a popular movie has been chopped into simple sentences and then combined into one complex sentence.
Choppy [fromPsycho(1960)] :
Norman Bates manages a motel.
It is remote.
It is dangerous.
Norman has a mother
She seems overly fond of knives
He tries to protect his mom.
Revised : In a remote and dangerous motel, manager Norman Bates tries to protect his mother, who seems overly fond of knives.
24. Sentence Variety
The only torture worse than listening to someones nails scraping across a blackboard is being forced to read a paragraph (or essay) full of identicallyconstructed sentences.